Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What was lost has been found

The new best thing ever is that you can now stream Netflix's instant viewing content through your Xbox.  I've liked the British version of The Office for a long time, and I've always written off the American version as a pale imitation.  Well, since the American version is streamable, I decided to give it a second chance.  Turns out it's really damn good, even though it sheds some of the pathos of the British version.  

So last Thursday, I was watching a few episodes of that before bed, and then went to check something on the web.  No dice.  I did some futzing with the router and modem, and I could connect to the wireless network, but the router didn't seem to want to send the internet signal through.  It seemed that our old faithful Microsoft router (what, you didn't know that MS used to make routers five years ago?!) finally shat the bed.

Last Friday at work I did some poking around looking for new routers, and kept seeing recommendations for a router that could be ordered online, and that is awesome with some custom firmware.  I liked the idea, but since I hate playing with networking stuff even more than I hate going to the dentist, I wasn't relishing the idea.

Then, I remembered that I hadn't tapped the best resource of all: my company newsgroups, repository of all things geek.  Within twenty minutes of posting there for advice, one of the coders responded that he had the exact router that had been recommended, with the better firmware already installed, and he'd sell it to me for $25.  The only downside was that I wouldn't get it until Monday.

So we just went three days with essentially no internet at home.  I was able to stream The Office, because the modem was connected, and I could wire the Xbox to the modem, but our computers are in a different room, and running wires to them was too much work.  It's funny how much you realize that something is a part of your life until it's not there anymore.  Frankly, it was actually kind of nice to not be able to spend as much (or any) time surfing the web at home, since I do way more of that than I should.  I think I'm going to make a conscious effort to do less of that in the future.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holy hell, where've I been?

Well, I've learned two things:

1) Not buying games is very hard when working at a company that produces them, and when your coworkers are all gamers (but really, I knew this).
2) I suck at keeping schedules (I knew this too).

So the not buying games thing is pretty much dead.  I ran over it several times with a truck.  I'd rather not talk about it, as it points to a rather alarming lack of self control on my part.

What I'm working on doing now is getting more out of the games I do buy than I have in the past.  Generally, that means playing them to completion, which I historically don't do.  I have had a decent amount of success at doing this so far this year, finishing about ten games thus far (and with another two at least that I'm planning on finishing before new year's).  

Now, you may think that's not a lot, and compared to some people I know, it isn't.  For example, in college, my friend Andrew would frequently borrow games from me, only to return them a day or two later, having finished them on the hardest setting.  But for me, that's probably triple the number of games I finished the year before.  

My main problem with finishing games is that I stop at the hard parts.  If I die several times, I turn it off for the night.  Then my last memory of the game is dying frequently, so when I have to decide what to play the next day, I choose not to play something where I die frequently.  The irony is that usually if I go back and retry the section that was stumping me after I've taken a break, I get through with no problem.  Amazingly, I've found that if I actually just keep chipping away at the game, I finish it.

The other thing I've been doing is focusing exclusively on one game until it's done.  If I try and play three games at once, I wind up finishing none of them, while if I tell myself "Okay, I'm going to play Game A, then Game B, then Game C", I can manage to finish them all.

In the end, I think what I was most unhappy about with my game buying was the feeling that I would get games only to have them sit on the shelf, creating the Backlog that this blog is named after.  If I can spend more time actually playing the games I own/buy to completion, I think I will feel much better about having them.  I will also feel much better about selling them after I've finished them.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Of long hours and tired

Another short one, to let everyone know I'm still alive.

In case you or those you know were ever jealous about how sweet a job I have (you play games for a living!), stew on this. My last timecard for the past two weeks totaled to 120 hours. I was here for 12 hours, 45 minutes yesterday.

There are far worse ways to earn money, but it's not the cake job it sounds like. Hopefully we'll be done with RB2 later this week or early next week (and if I'm extraordinarily lucky, I won't have to work Saturday and Sunday), so my life and blogging can maybe return to a semblance of normalcy around then.

Football season starts soon! Woo!

Friday, July 11, 2008

A blog post

Russell is a dick.

But you knew that already.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

In which much time has passed

Well, when I said that I'd be posting every Monday, I may not have taken my increased work schedule into account. Since the beginning of the month, I've been on Mon-Thurs 12 hour day, regular 8 hour day on Friday work schedule. In addition, work has been, well, more work, and I've had a hard time keeping track of the passing days, let alone writing a blog post.

So last you heard, I was having problems with my new PS3. Well, I'm happy to report that after writing that post, the answer was given to me. Turns out what was happening was a ground loop, which is basically an electrical signal feeding back into the system by way of the grounding plug. The solution was to plug the PS3 (with a 3-prong plug) into a 2-prong adapter, and plug that in without properly grounding it. Bing, problem solved.

So I've picked up a few games on the cheap, and borrowed some more from work. I've liked what I've played, but it hasn't been anything that I think couldn't have been done on the 360. Bluray movies, however, look excellent, though no better than HD-DVDs do. At least the system boots up quickly and is very quiet.

This week's Rock Band releases include the entire album Doolittle by the Pixies, as well as three tracks off the new Weezer album. I have to admit I'm not familiar at all with Doolittle, so I'll probably be giving them a listen before I buy them. I'll pick up one or more of the Weezer tracks. Definitely getting The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, which is an awesome song.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Failure Pt. 2 - Karma bites back

So as I confessed mere hours ago, I bought myself a PS3. Apparently God isn't big on oathbreakers, as my experience thus far has been mediocre at best.

Long story short, it turns out that having the PS3 connected to the TV messes up any signals going in on any inputs except one. So if I want to be using the PS3, I have to have it connected via HDMI or it messes up its own signal, and if I want to use anything else, I have to have it disconnected completely.

That's fantastic. I've never heard of anything like that before. I've tried everything I can think of (and I can think of a lot), including exchanging the system for a new one, and that's the only conclusion I came up with. Bear in mind that my TV is Sony too.

I made the mistake of calling the Sony support line. The supervisor there told me that my best bet would be to either live with it, or replace my old, probably broken TV, with one of their fine Bravia LCDs. I told them that since I just spent $400 on this new PS3, I can't afford to buy one of their fine TVs, but if they wanted to give me a $400 discount, I might be persuaded. Unsurprisingly, they refused.

They also offered to let me send it to them for repair. That was nice of them I thought.

So, my faith in Sony's engineering remains very low.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Wherin I fail

It's a sad day for me. I dislike Sony and ever so many things about the way they operate. Unfortunately, they seem to have pulled off a win in the HD disc wars, and Bluray is the heir apparent to the DVD empire. Of course, it's almost equally likely that streaming media will turn out to really take over from DVD, and Bluray will become the new laserdisc, but that's a different discussion.

Loving HD movies as I do, it was inevitable that I was going to get a player eventually. What's strange about the Bluray player market is that there's only one player that runs well, is relatively glitch-free, and will support the constantly changing Bluray standard. I just so happens that this Bluray player comes with a PS3 attached to it.

So I've been resigned to the fact that it was very likely that I'd be procuring myself a PS3 at some point in the next year. This week, two things combined to bring me to the place I'm at now.

Thing the first: Sony has a deal where if you sign up for their credit card, you get $100 off your first $300 purchase with it. PS3s are more than $300.

Thing the second: Walmart had a promotion last week where if you bought a 40GB PS3, you got a $100 Walmart gift card. Best Buy, it turns out, offered to match that deal if you asked them.

The result is essentially a $200 PS3.

So, freshly minted Sony card in hand, I armed myself with the SKU for the pricematch (I love the internet) and a printout of the Walmart ad, and made my way to Best Buy. Once there, I got someone at Customer Service, and pulled out my Walmart ad, and asked about the pricematch. Having done this kind of thing before, I was fully prepared with a story about a friend in Albany who works at Best Buy having clued me in to the pricematch, the email to stores from corporate, and the exact SKU to use to ring the deal.

To my shock, the guy knew exactly what I was talking about, and said it was no problem, and did I want to get anything else while I was there?

So for a relatively low cash outlay, I now have a PS3 firmly attached to my home theater setup. One more run out to get a new set of cables (the ones I have apparently cause a strange video artifact on my TV when they're hooked into the PS3, one of the wierdest things I've seen in a while), and I'll be all set. Pirates of the Caribbean and Ratatouille will be very sweet in HD.

Unfortunately, this means my no buying games plan has failed. I picked up the two games I'm really interested in for the PS3, though I got them for half price, so that's good. I'm also using the remainder of the gift card to pick up Metal Gear Solid 4 later this week. Which brings us to:

Games bought:
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - $30
Ratchet and Clank Future - $30
PS3 - $200
Medieval 2: Kingdoms - $8

New total:

Fortunately, there aren't more than a few games coming out for the PS3 that I'm interested in, so I don't foresee this resulting in any extra game purchases beyond what I listed. However, it may result in some bluray purchases. Good thing I already kicked my compulsive DVD buying habit.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Blinded by the WoW

Yes, the post is a day late. I was spending Memorial Day not working, doing some chores, and experimenting with new hairstyles. Turns out I look awesome with a mohawk. Who'd have thought?

Games Bought:

Total spent to date:

Things I'm Sad I Can't Buy:
Nothing new this week, but the urge to buy Age of Conan is still high. There's something about an MMO that allows you to decapitate your enemies and ride around on a war mammoth that's alluring. Also, there's a brothel called The Bearded Clam. That's comedy right there.

In order to fight off the desire to buy it, I did wind up resubbing to World of Warcraft. I joined a new server that work people are on, so hopefully having some people to play with will encourage me to play longer. I spent the weekend working my priest up to level 18, which is probably the fastest I've gotten a character up that high. I decided to start her as a blood elf instead of my traditional undead. I don't like the blood elves as much, but I didn't want to run through the undead content for the upteenth time, and I haven't done the blood elf stuff yet. I suppose I could have just run my undead over to the blood elf territory, but that's a pain. Also, I didn't think of it.

So yesterday was Memorial Day, which got me thinking about the portrayal of military conflicts in games. Games have a fairly unique ability to bring their subjects to life in a very personal way for the player. Since they require the player to make active choices, the player is immersed into the game in a way that the viewer of a movie or TV show isn't. This, of course, isn't saying that one is better than the other, simply that they can affect the player/viewer in distinctly different ways.

Because of games' unique ability to place the player directly in the shoes of a soldier of a war, they have the ability to provide a more visceral understanding of what it might have been/be to be a soldier in combat, with one exception: the permanence of death.

I'd like to talk specifically about two games in particular in this regard, Medal of Honor: Frontline and Call of Duty 4.

The first, Medal of Honor, is an older World War II first person shooter. You play as an effectively nameless grunt during the Allied invasion, and one of the major setpiece levels is the D-day invasion. The level is lifted almost directly from the infamous scene in Saving Private Ryan. Because of this familiarity, one would think that the impact of the level would be less. Strangely, it's not. If anything, the feelings the film evoked are magnified by the change of perspective and the addition of control. In the game, the bullets are flying at you, and they fly thick. Move in the wrong direction at the wrong time, and death is almost instantaneous.

While playing it, I found myself instinctively cowering behind any cover I could find. I knew that it was just a game, yet I simultaneously didn't want to move and risk immediate death. When I did finally make my way up to the bunkers housing the machine guns, it was with relish that I charged in and emptied a clip of ammo into the soldiers manning the guns, and with pleasure that I watched my AI buddies burn the enemies with flamethrowers. I was starting to get a hint of what the soldiers charging the beach that day might have felt.

However, even then, I knew that what I was feeling was distinctly different in one very important respect: the impermanence of death. If I moved the wrong way, I died, yes. But the next step was to reload the level and try again. Because of this, what was initially fear turned quickly to frustration as I tried to make my way up the beach again and again. Lack of permanent death changed what was initially a starkly terrifying experience to a more standard game level.

The second game I want to discuss is Call of Duty 4 (spoilers ahead). This game is another first person game, this time set in modern-day, fictional conflict with Russian ultra-nationalists that have control of a nuclear device in the middle east. Throughout the game, you alternate between controlling a British SAS operative and an American Marine, playing one level as the SAS, and the next as the Marine. This mechanic is standard for the series, and has been used in all their previous games.

Most of the game is a fairly standard, if very well-done military shooter. One level in particular stands out. Playing as the Marine, you find yourself searching a middle eastern city for the terrorist controlling the nuclear weapon. As the level progresses, it becomes clear that the weapon is in the city, he intends to use it, and your chances of finding it are very small. Finally, your unit is withdrawn from the city as intel comes in that the bomb is about to be detonated. You fight your way to the chopper, and it takes off, with orders coming over the radio for all American forces to withdraw, and out the rear door of the chopper, you see others lifting off behind you.

Then nuclear bomb goes off behind your chopper. You see the shock wave hit the choppers behind you, and then your chopper. It spins wildly, finally crashing to the ground. Fairly standard action-movie stuff at this point. Then the game cuts to an animated loading screen showing satellite shots of the bomb going off, and a list of the soldiers killed in the blast. Your name is highlighted, and then the game centers on your position, saying "...located". The new level starts. The expectation is that you have survived, and the next level is going to be your soldier heroically making his way out of the area, probably rescuing a buddy or two along the way.

This never happens. Instead, you find yourself lying on the floor of the wrecked chopper. Wind howls outside, and a strange glow from outside leaks into the cabin. You push the stick forward to move, but all you can do is crawl along slowly. You make your way to the door, and look out on a decimated landscape all around you. In the distance, the mushroom cloud still burns. You look down, and see a ten foot drop. With no other choice, you flop to the ground like a dead fish. You have nowhere to go. Everything around you is dead. You crawl forward with no destination in mind, but hoping for something to happen. Something does. You hear your heartbeat slow. You stumble, pick yourself up, and stumble again. The world goes white as your heart gives out, and you die.

As effective as this scene is, and it is terribly effective, the truly impressive part is that death, here, is permanent. For the rest of the game, you control only the SAS operative. It's a striking way to drive home the possibility for a soldier's life to be snuffed out. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn't bear this out, as every other death in the game can be safely recovered from with a quick reload.

Unfortunately for game designers, making death permanent is a very tough needle to thread. Making death permanent poses a number of design problems. If a player dies a permanent death, do they restart from the beginning of the game? A frustrating result more than an emotional one. Some games have dealt with the problem by killing secondary, non-player-controlled characters. The trick here is that the deaths must often occur at predetermined times in order to avoid breaking any of the game's other story elements.

Some of the more effective deaths come in games where the characters are created entirely by the player, and have minimal narrative interaction with the world. Diablo, for example, offers a mode where a player's death is permanent, and dying means restarting completely. This certainly produces a different style of play, and can produce an emotional response from the dying player. However, it is an optional mode, and only a very small percentage of players attempt it.

A more accessible example is the old game X-COM: UFO Defense. In it, you can recruit and train a squad of soldiers to fight aliens. A soldier's death is permanent, but you can always recruit another, so death doesn't stop the game, but can produce a setback as the new soldier is trained. What makes this game interesting is that you can name your characters and watch them develop personal histories. It's not unusual to get attached to a particular soldier organically. Maybe there's one nitwit soldier who you send in first because he's expendable, only to watch him escape death time and again. Seeing him finally bite it can be both amusing and sad at the same time. This is probably one of the better examples of death in a game being both unscripted and affecting.

Unfortunately, the technology needed to duplicate this result, while also producing in-game character interaction, doesn't exist yet. Until we've had some serious advancements in AI programming, deaths in-game will likely continue to exist as throwaway events, or will remain the realm of the scripted event. It won't be until the game exists that lets you forge a bond with a soldier next to you, and allows you to potentially watch him die at any given moment of the game, with no hope of saving him, that we will even begin to be able to approximate what it's like being a soldier in combat.

For an excellent example of experimental game design on the subject of permanent death, take a few minutes to go here, and download the game Exection: http://gmc.yoyogames.com/index.php?showtopic=375097

It's a very short game, but definitely worth playing. Don't read the posts below until after you've spent a few minutes with the game.

I seem to have gotten a bit off-topic and long-winded. Sorry about that. Next post, I promise, more light-hearted fun.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Small things

Because of work, it's been a slow two weeks, gaming-wise. First, the roundup:

Games bought:

Total spent to date:

I was able to spend a few more hours on GTA4. With all the relationships you can/need to keep up, it's starting to feel like The Sims with guns and whores. Well, I guess all my Sims tend to wind up kind of whores anyway, but they definitely don't have guns.

In the game, there's various characters you can meet, and they'll frequently call you and ask to hang out. If you agree, you have to go pick them up, and then take them someplace they like, be it bowling, to play darts, to a show, drinking, or to a strip club. After the merry-making, you take them home, and the amount they like you goes up depending on how much they liked the date, taking into account your clothes, the car you're driving, and the activity. Different people like different things, like one girl likes when you pick her up in a hybrid, or one of the guys who love the strip joints.

Once a character likes you a certain amount, they'll offer you a perk. For example, one girl who works for the DA can reduce your wanted level if you give her a call, or a guy who will meet you and sell you discount guns.

The downside is that, like real people, they like you less if you never hang out with them, or if you turn them down when they ask to go out. The result is that you can easily spend more than half your time keeping ratings up for all the characters whose perks you want to use. There are downsides to being popular. Of course, you can ignore them for a while, but eventually you'll need to start seeing them again.

Other than GTA, I re-discovered some small games I picked up a while ago. Everyday shooter is a really stylish arcade-style shooter that heavily ties in the music to the graphics. Video here:


I also put some more time into Audiosurf. This is a game that has you racing along a track picking up blocks of various colors in order to form sets of three. The real hook is that the track is created and synchronized with any MP3 you want from your hard drive. Pick a fast song to get a fast ride with a ton of blocks. Pick a slow song to get something more relaxed. It's also very neat and good for playing in short bursts.


Games I'm sad I can't buy:
Age of Conan- It's Conan done as a massively multiplayer online game. This is good for me not to get, because I never seem to put enough time into them. Plus, I still have World of Warcraft that I could always play more.

Lost Winds- A neat looking downloadable for the Wii that has you controlling the wind with your Wiimote.

Drone Tactics- A strategy game for the DS that lets you control an army of robotic insects. Awesome premise, but I have a ton of these types of games already.

Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness- The one I'm really sad about. It's Penny Arcade doing a Lovecraftian JRPG. That's 15 kinds of awesome, and it looked really good in the demo I got to see at work a few weeks ago. It makes me very sad to not be buying this one. Oh well, Lost Odyssey needs finishing anyway.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Work is busy, posts are late

I totally missed last Monday's post. I'm sure all three of you are terribly disappointed.

Why would I miss such an important occasion, you may ask? Well, I'll tell you, and in so doing, give a brief glimpse into the exciting, fast paced, and stupendously glamorous world of video game testing.

One of the harsh realities of the video game industry (along with low pay, no supermodels, and questionable personal hygene) is something called crunch. Basically, it's mandatory overtime during periods close to deadlines. The extent of it varies from company to company, and it can range from soul crushing to something resembling a refugee camp of coders and testers sleeping under their desks and eating nothing but Cup 'o Noodles.

Harmonix crunch is closer to the merely soul crushing end of the spectrum. We work 11 hour days Mon-Thurs, and eight hour days on Friday and Saturday. This goes on for a long as need be. Right now, we're in a light crunch, so it's only going on for two weeks. Crunch, however, flows like the tide, and it can be extended as needed. Last summer, crunch went on for about two months. We're hoping it won't be so bad this time. Hope springs eternal.

So what does one do during crunch? Much the same as one does during non-crunch, just more of it. What's that? Well, let me tell you.

The tester's job is to find bugs in the program we're testing. These bugs cover a wide range of problems and severities. Game crashes completely while starting up? Bug. Is something misspelled in the text of a certain screen? Bug. If you unplug and replug your controller 15 times in a row, and then back in and out of a certain screen while mashing on the green button and unplugging the ethernet cord, and the game freezes? Yup, bug.

Now, the trick is figuring out exactly what you did that caused the bug. Sometimes, it's simple. "Pressing start on the title screen causes crash." That's easy. Most times, it's not that simple. In the last example of the previous paragraph, you have to figure out is it exactly 15 unplug/replug cycles that do it? What if you mash the red button? Does it happen on every screen? So on and so forth. It's actually a lot like running a science experiment where you have to start with a theory about what's causing the problem, and then start eliminating variables.

What this boils down to is a whole lot of repetition. You might spend half a day tracking down a single bug. You might find three other things in the process. Sometimes, it's mind-numbingly boring. It is a good feeling when you finally figure out the exact steps needed to get a bug, and can finally submit it to get fixed.

So that's part of what goes on on a daily basis. A good chunk of the rest of my time is taken up working on test plans and checklists, which are the documents that we'll use to do thorough tests of the game now that it's getting more stable. These fall into the mind-numbing category. An example of a section of a checklist:

1) Load game. Each of the brand screens come up?
2) Does intro movie load?
3) Does intro movie play with sound?
4) Does into movie play to the end with no skips?
5) After intro movie, does title screen load?
6) Does title screen remain up for 30 seconds?
7) After 30 seconds, does demo loop play?
8) After 45 seconds, does game return to title screen?
9) Does pressing start on title screen bring up main menu?
10) On main menu, does pressing up and down cycle through menu items?
11) When a menu item is selected, does it's graphic change appropriately?
12) Does pressing A on a highlighted menu item produce a sound?
13) Produce an animation?
14) Are you taken to the appropriate next screen?
15) Does pressing B take you back to the main menu?

And so on and so forth. The checklists are for "critical path testing", or "what we expect the user to do."
Above and beyond this, we also do creative testing, or "shit the users shouldn't do, but will because they're dumb or are trying to break the game." This can include unplugging the system at weird times, pulling various wires, creating as many data items with stupidly long names as possible, or, my favorite, trying to get around the profanity filter (yes, you totally can).

What you don't actually get to do much of when testing is play the game. Yes, you go into gameplay, but we have cheats entered with a keyboard that can autoplay the game and do various other things that we might need to do while testing. Frequently, you can actually play if you want, but generally, your primary focus isn't necessarily on playing, and your attention is better devoted to looking for things other than gameplay, unless you're actually testing the gameplay element.

So, that's what I spend my days doing. Because of that, I didn't get last week's post up, and I also didn't have much time to game. I'll put up my regular post tomorrow about the games I'm sad I can't buy, and what games I did get to play.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Grand Theft: New Game

Games bought:
Grand Theft Auto 4 Collector's Edition - $93.99 (with overnight shipping )

Total spent to date:

This week's gaming time was spent almost exclusively with GTA4. I've racked up somewhere around 13 hours with the game, which is easily the most I've played any GTA game, and I'm definitely in the addicted category. It's an amazingly fun game.

The most impressive thing about the game is the city that lives inside it. This is the closest anyone's gotten to creating a living world inside a game. Traffic builds up during rush hour, while at 3 AM, the streets will be completely deserted. The areas of the city flow into one another organically. The citizens react (fairly) realistically to the mayhem that you cause, and interact with each other as well.

More importantly, the story and the characters it involves are interesting and have some depth to them. Your cousin is a blowhard bullshit artist, always telling you how awesome his life is, when really, it's two steps above utter shit. At a certain point, however, something happens that forces him to face reality, and cracks start to appear in his upbeat demeanor, revealing his upbeat personality to be a mask that he wears to conceal his despair about how miserable his life is. It's an impressive bit of characterization for a GTA game.

The rest of the cast I've run across is equally impressive. There's the rasta drug dealer who's patois is all but unintelligible, even with subtitles on, who surprised me by arriving on his own to back me up during a sketchy situation. There's the girlfriend who's strangely curious about my criminal dealings. There's the ultra-male juicer/stolen car dealer who's doping on bull shark testosterone, and is like a steroid-ridden self-help seminar turned up to 11. I can't wait to see who else shows up.

Finally, there's your main character, Niko. In past GTA games, the main characters have either had no personality, or one that was strictly stereotypical. Niko has a past. He's done bad things, and while he doesn't enjoy it, is willing to do them again if he must, but he doesn't feel good about it. He's a funny, sarcastic guy. He's someone that I wouldn't mind hanging out with, but who I would be careful not to piss off. He's the kind of character that I look forward to spending a lot of gametime with.

Of course, what would GTA be without a ton of unscripted going-on. There's plenty of crazy cop chases, both intentional and unintentional. I love that you can steal a car by standing in front of it and aiming your gun at the drive, who will generally jump out and run. Alternately, if your gun is in hand and you try to jack the car normally, instead of simply pulling the driver out, you'll hold the gun to his head while helping him from the car, and then apologize as you drive off. Once, while dropping my brother off, I pulled up next to another car. Instead of getting out, he socked me in the jaw, knocking me out of the car, then hopping over and getting out the driver's side. After, I figured out that I'd pulled up too close for him to open his door, so this was apparently the most effective way to get out of the car.

So, since it's my last new game for a long while, I guess it's a good thing that I like it so much.

Things I'm Sad I Can't Buy This Week:
Boom Blox comes out for the Wii this week. It's a kind of puzzle game involving physics and exploding blocks. It looks like tons of fun. I would love to play it. Sad for me.

Friday, May 2, 2008

My First Test

Just got Gamestop's weekly ad flyer. They're having a buy 2 get 1 free sale on used game. In the past, this has resulted in me buying many games for the cheap. That won't happen this time, but it won't be easy seeing that it doesn't.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Update the first, wherein nothing much happens.

Since I just started this regimen of not buying games, this week has been both unsuccessful and uneventful.

Games bought:
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer - $2.49
Persona 3: FES - $2.49
Total spent to date: $5.00

Numbers-wise, not a great start, as I added two games to the queue. But since I spent a total of five bucks on the two of them, it's not too shabby. How did I manage this? $55 in Amazon gift certificates that I magically had. Hooray!

Now Playing:
This week, I've been hopping between several things. Having recently re-acquired Tomb Raider Anniversary, I played through the first few levels of that. I'm still surprised how much I like it. It's been two years since I played it (I can tell, because of the handy date stamps on the saves). The graphics are still very nice, especially the environments. The character models aren't great, but they get the job done. The platforming remains top notch, and it's obvious that the designers played Prince of Persia: Sands of Time before making this one. Shooting and driving are problematic, but they wisely de-emphasized both of those aspects in favor of more jumping and tomb raiding. Good move.

I continued to push through Lost Odyssey, and at ~14 hours, I've not only moved onto disc 2, the game has also moved into the elite tier of games that I've played for more than 10 hours. (Incidentally, Tomb Raider is in that category too, clocking in at ~22 hours now.) Story and graphics remain excellent. It's been a while since I've had a game consistently convey as much emotion as this one has. I just added party members 4 and 5. I'm not convinced that I like 4 yet. She's set up like a healer, but frankly isn't very good at it. When I can use items that are faster, more reliable, and much more powerful than my healer, it's not a good sign. I'm hoping she powers up some more soon. I'm looking forward to continuing with this one.

The new one is Mystery Dungeon: Shiren Wanderer. I shouldn't like this game. I should hate this game. The game plays like a turn-based Diablo-style game. You work your way through 30 levels of a dungeon that's different every time you go through, collecting better weapons and staves that do different things to enemies like knock them back or switch your position with theirs. The hitch is that when you die, you start over. You drop back to level one, lose all the stuff you found, and get dropped back on the first floor of the dungeon. However, all isn't lost! As you move through the 30 floors, you run across warehouses that you can drop items into. Why is that grand? Because any items in the warehouses don't disappear when you die.

Basically, you can leave things for the future yous that follow after you die, because die you will. Many times, and in dumb ways. In one epic run, I was on the first level. I found a nice dog who I tried to talk to. Sadly, I couldn't understand his barks. Fortunately, my talking weasel translated for me! (It's a weird, Japanese game, folks.) The dog told me that he was hungry, and discovered that riceballs made him feel better. I felt bad for him, so I tossed him one of my riceballs. He took offense to this, and attacked. It being level 1, I was weak and hadn't found a weapon or shield, so I was promptly mauled by the dog and died. I found out later that when a character says something in red, he's just giving information. The dog thought I was attacking him. Stupid dog.

So, you'd think that starting over with each death would be frustrating. It should be, but I've overcome that by thinking of each time through as a "life" like in Mario Bros. If I die, I learn to do better next time, and hopefully I've stashed some goodies to make the next run better. It's a really addicting process, and I like it quite a bit.

So that's my playing for the week. The big news for this week is that Grand Theft Auto 4 comes out tomorrow. My copy is on its way, and as long as UPS doesn't do anything dumb, I should have it in my Xbox tomorrow night. I might even get some impressions written up later in the week. Should be fun. Bitches. Word.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

In the beginning, there was stuff

I am a gamer. As a gamer, I buy games. For most of my working life, I sold games. In my current (and hopefully, future) career, I help make games. Buying games is pretty much what I should be doing, right?

The problem is that I do it too much. I'm a sucker for a deal. I'm also a sucker for buying what other people tell me is good. Yeah, I'm a moron. Combine those three things (especially that last one), and you get someone with way too many games. Too many games to the point that even I think I'm buying too many games. It's gotten to the point where it's a definite problem for me. I've got to stop.

The Problem:

Current game inventory (estimates, because it's late, and I'm too tired to count)

PC Games: Buying since ~1996. Total count: too many to estimate. Two ~250 CD binders full, at least another 50 in jewel cases, and at least 30 in the new plastic cases.

PS2: ~50
Xbox: ~60
Gamecube: ~20
Xbox 360: ~35
Wii: ~20
Gameboy Advance: ~20
DS: ~30
PSP: ~20
Boardgames: ~120 These look more numerous because they take up so much space.

I also have a subscription to Gametap.

Of all those hundreds of games, I estimate that I've finished less than 5%. Wait, the numbers get worse. I've played more than five hours of maybe 25%. I've played more than an hour of only about 70%. (I'm not including the board games in that. I've actually played most of those at least once.)

Those numbers disturb the hell out of me. The obvious conclusion you'd draw from that information is that I'm either A) batshit insane (haven't ruled that out), or B) I really hate most games.

The truth is that I love games. I love them so much that I can't bear to let one that's good go by. If I hear that a game is good, I pick it up in hopes that I will think it's good too. Where the problem comes in is that I can't manage to filter what I decide to get. I don't like baseball. I don't watch it, and I don't enjoy the video version of it. But I'll be damned if every single season I find myself debating about buying this year's game. For baseball, I manage to talk myself out of it. That seems to be the only game I'm able to do that with. The results of my repeated failure is the set of numbers up there.

The solution:

Stop buying games for one year. Plain and simple. It's been suggested that going cold turkey is not a good way to go, and I should try limiting myself to a certain dollar amount, or a certain number of games per month. Those are good ideas, and I've tried both. I'm a decent negotiator, and I manage to talk myself into breaking my own rules if I allow myself that little bit of wiggle room.

So, here's my plan. It's in steps. Steps and numbered lists are good, right?

1) Don't go to the gaming sections of message boards. Unless I'm looking for specific info about a game I already own, they're just bad news because can you guess what people talk about there? That's right, I knew you looked smart.

2) No more looking through game stores or sections of stores. This has become a habit in my constant search for bargains. A game I didn't find interesting for $50 might be more interesting at $20. In reality, the $20 won't get played either.

3) No more looking through bargain sections of game forums or websites. It's kind of a corollary to #2, really.

4) Play the games I have. That really should be obvious. I have a lot, and most of them are really good. They deserve to be played and loved.

5) Write a blog. Hey, here it is. Victory the first!

The Plan:

As I said, I'm really good at negotiating with myself. I'm really quite the pushover. What I don't like is public failure. Hate it a bunch. So, the plan is to keep this here blog updated every Monday with the past week's progress. I'll report any purchases or lack of purchases. Any purchases that do get made will have the dollar amount included, as well as a running tally of how much I've spent on gaming for the year. I'll also give an update about what I have been playing so you can follow along at home. Won't that be fun!

The fine print:

So there are a few exceptions that I'm setting out early. First, I have a copy of GTA4 coming in this week. It's the collector's edition. It's a bad way to start, but I'm looking at it like the last hurrah before I go all abstinate. I have two board games that I preordered months ago. They charged for them recently, and will be arriving in the mail in the next few weeks. I'll make note of prices when they arrive, but it's too late to do anything about them. I also reserve the right to pick up Rock Band tracks. I work on the game, and they're fun at parties, so I'll get them sometimes too, but I'll try to limit them, and I'll post what I'm buying.

In summary:

So that's the plan. A neat side effect of this is that I'll have a chance to write, which I haven't really done in a while. I'll try and avoid daily diatribes about the interesting lint found in my pocket. I don't really know what kind of things I might write about yet, but I'll try and keep it to things people other than myself might find interesting, but no guarantees.